Kiki Smith: Sojourn
The notion of space has had a particular resonance for women artists throughout history. Their artistic impulses have long been constrained, often because women have had neither the time nor a place to work creatively. In the British author Virginia Woolf’s 1929 essay “A Room of One’s Own,” she asserts that privacy and personal liberty are vital to the success of creative pursuits. Space, therefore, is the key to artistic inspiration.
The idea of how women found space for creative inspiration in the past is the point of departure for Sojourn, this exhibition by Kiki Smith (American, b. Germany 1954) relating to the lives of women artists.Smith’s imagination was fired by a chance encounter with a reproduction of Prudence Punderson’s eighteenth-century needlework The First, Second, and Last Scene of Mortality (displayed nearby). In this remarkable piece, Punderson outlines the course of a woman’s life, with scenes of birth and death flanking a remarkable rendering of a young woman independently engaged in creative pursuits.
For Sojourn, Smith has turned the long galleries of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art into a series of intimate, domestically scaled rooms in which she introduces her lyrical and highly personal vocabulary of images. Because women’s lives traditionally have taken place in domestic settings, Smith has expanded her installation into two eighteenth-century period rooms on this floor. Like Punderson’s needlework, the sculptural vignettes, works on paper, and other objects within Sojourn evoke the course of a woman’s lifetime, marked by the struggles unique to female artists as well as the contemplative exhilaration that defines the moment of creative inspiration. In Smith’s hands, the Annunciation (the scene in which Mary learns she will be mother to Jesus) becomes an analogy for this moment, linking artistic vision to spiritual experience. Ultimately, Sojourn suggests the creative potential of women limited by obligations and propriety as it explores Smith’s own ideas of how inspiration reveals itself in women’s literal and metaphorical space.
Catherine J. Morris Curator,
Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art